December 31, 2010

A 2010 send-off

Set the clocks and pop the corks.
Fill the living room with cheer.
Get the plates and plastic forks--
Tonight we kill another year.

A year of laughter, tears, and love,
A year of fortune and bad luck.
A year of "none of the above"--
A year of cliches run amok.

A year of ninety thousand words,
Of beer and rocks and scouts and games.
Of faith and soccer, boats and birds,
Of travel, trips, new cats, and names.

Twenty years of wedded bliss!
New business cards, new iPad too.
A birthday party for my sis,
And GIMAH and some bad haiku.

We bid farewell to twenty-ten
with champagne kisses and a song.
And now let's do it all again.
(Unless I've got my dates all wrong.)

December 29, 2010

haiku wednesday - at least once (more) in 2010, by god

This week's words are buckle,  evade, wedge.

New year's resolution:  Do 3WW more times in 2011 than in 2010.  Shouldn't be hard.  This is only my second one all year.

concrete wedge plummets
foundations crack, posts buckle
no thing evades time

evade temptation
courage and resolve buckle
this new wedge splits us

hop in the car, son
wedge in close and buckle up
there's cops to evade

December 27, 2010

I don't think "Asteroids" had the same effects

Our Wii is on the fritz.  I think the laser is off track or something.  At first, it caused minor withdrawal symptoms in #1 Son, but he soon got over it and found other ways to occupy himself (notably his iPod Touch).

Apparently, according to science, this is also destroying his ability to drive in fog.  He's only 14 and doesn't drive yet, but don't let that fact cloud the issue at hand.

The NPR article linked above references science done by researchers that, quite frankly, could have come to me first and saved some of their grant money for a truly kick-ass publication party.  This research shows that shoot-em-up action video games, like the Call of Duty series that my boys and I enjoy, enhance certain skills such as focus, multitasking, and the ability to take in visual data and process it quickly.  The end of my blog post linked above theorizes exactly what this science shows.

Which of course highlights the subtext of this post:  I am a genius.

Predictably, however, NPR readers went ape shit at the suggestion that action video games could have any effect on society other than to create the next crop of war-mongering misogynistic philandering neanderthals--i.e. Republican Congressmen.  (But let's be honest, without war-mongering misogynistic philandering neanderthals, who would protect The People from gay marriage?)

Be that as it may, I believe this research, and I've always thought that video games are not entirely useless.  I can see these skills in my boys.  There may be other ways to enhance these skills (football, hockey, soccer, and basketball come to mind), but I think today's child needs both physical activity and video games.  Plus books, theater, and social groups.

Video games should rarely be taken as more than a special kind of toy, but people also need to realize that toys build skills, and these toys build a lot more skills than the ability to grow up into a successful and productive psychopath.

December 22, 2010

workers below, and the rails are h-o-t HOT.

Yet More Rules Of The Blog

We just spent four days in the desert.  Las Vegas and environs, in particular.  In my life I've spent many days in Las Vegas.  I've seen four days in a row where the temperature was 115 degrees or more.  But I've never seen four days in a row of heavy rains.  Before this trip, that is.

With that in mind, watch your hands and please be aware of the workers.

That is all.

PS:  Prize to the first person to identify the location of this particular sign.  Must be present to win.  Must be at least 18 years of age and legally able to cross state lines to collect prize.

December 20, 2010

Things I Learned in 2010

Because Erica did it and I thought it was an interesting idea, I thought I'd do it, too, in my own special way.  In the interest of hoping some of you don't make the same mistakes I did, here are some things I learned in 2010, in no particular order or level of quality:

  1. It's easier than you think to steal a catalytic converter from a Toyota 4Runner.
  2. It is possible to overcome time zone changes with coffee and Diet Coke, but not for three different time zones in five days.
  3. Californians lose 30 points of IQ when they have a ballot put in their hands.
  4. Emails that have the subject line "Quick question" always contain a question that takes 30 seconds to read but seventeen painful hours to answer.
  5. Sedona is insanely beautiful, and helicopter rides are expensive fun.
  6. Rock climbing is really fun and really, really hard your first time doing it.  Oh, and it's 90% legs and 10% everything else.
  7. Using an iPad and wireless keyboard not only gets bigger word count, but it also gets you noticed by strangers at Peet's.
  8. Nederland (CO) is a place I would really like to visit again.
  9. Some high school classmates don't change at all in 25 years, and others are unrecognizable.  Sometimes that's good, and sometimes... not so much.
  10. If you carry a FREE HUGS sign at an amusement park, most people will aggressively ignore you.
  11. If you hug the hottie carrying the FREE HUGS sign at the amusement park, your momentary embarrassment will be far outweighed by the blissful karma you gain.
  12. Des Moines, unexpectedly, is not a place that makes me think I must escape immediately.
  13. Being a Senior Vice President is pretty cool.
  14. Tornado warnings may usually pass without incident, but one is enough for me, thanks.
  15. It is possible to be #1 in something and still not win the "best of" award.
I learned a lot more stuff, but mostly I learned to just take it easy, man.  That is to say, abide.

December 17, 2010

there will be no more levity on this trip!

When I was in my early teens, I went backpacking with my brother and my father.  Near the trailhead, we passed what appeared to be a group of inner city kids, about my age, on a day hike with a couple of adult leaders.  I don't know what happened to cause such anger in the leader less than a half mile from the parking lot, but as we passed them he turned, halted the line of kids, and yelled at them, "That's IT.  There will be no more levity on this trip!"

Perhaps he was using the word levity in a way I was not used to.  Or perhaps he was just a meanie.

In any case, I was reminded of that story when I read this post at the US Chamber's blog, "The ChamberPost," today.  What struck me most about this, apart from the fact that The ChamberPost looks unfortunately like The ChamberPot at a quick glance, was just how colossally selfish, stupid, and reactionary young parents are these days.

Earlier this week, a parent called the cops on a preschool because they duct-taped his little brat's sleeves together so he wouldn't hurt a teacher or other students.  I guess the father never thought to actually discipline his kid for being a little shit all day.  A better lesson for his boy would be to drop the weight of law enforcement on the teachers and staff of the preschool.  Classy.  (Then again, you know what they say about the proximity relationship between fallen apples and their trees.)

Then on Wednesday we learned about a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of some parents who want to force McDonald's to stop making their children whine.  Instead of working on changing their children's bratty behavior, these parents chose to put their efforts into changing the behavior of one of the world's largest companies.  Again, apples and trees.  One wonders if the first time these parents will hear the word "no" will be when the judge kicks them out of the courtroom, as I hope he or she will.

And now this.  Swing sets removed from playgrounds at the mere threat of a lawsuit.  This parent apparently thinks it's easier to hire a lawyer than to apply a band-aid.  The real tragedy is that this is not an isolated case.  Liability risk is causing some schools to be built without playgrounds at all.

This is simply astonishing to me, and a tragedy of epic proportions.  No, I'm not kidding.  This lawsuit culture we've built, this culture of blaming someone else for everything and then demanding through courts and police that they be punished or pay, is hurtful to the future of our society.  There is no freedom when you can be hit with a lawsuit after being hit head-on.  There is no democracy when a man with a lawyer can hold the levity of hundreds of kids hostage.

These lawsuits illuminate the disgusting aspect of our culture that encourages people to blame others for everything, including their own shortcomings.

December 16, 2010

Religion or cross words?

Wait, sorry, that was supposed to be crossword, not cross words.  Religion is already full of cross words.  Just listen to any zealot, and a lot of the words they use will be cross.

But no, I'm talking about this new thing called Neurotheology.  NPR did a story on it, so it must be either very leftist or... um, socialist, right?  Anyway, it's going to be more honest and informative than FOX news will be, that's for sure.  Right?

Well, maybe.  See, the Neurotheology article reports that a scientist did brain scans of religious people before and after eight weeks of meditation, just 12 minutes a day.  What this showed was pretty interesting and significant, and actionable--with this simple, non-intrusive technique, people can actually get their brains to work better and improve their memory.  This was shown in tests.

The conclusion, however, is that somehow the spiritual nature of the activity is the source of the improvement in brain function.  That being religious and meditating is what causes it.  Not just the meditating sans the religious aspect.

But waaayy back in January, 2006, TIME magazine ran an article about ways to stave off Alzheimer's.  And I quote:

Several studies have found that folks who regularly engage in mentally challenging activities—like reading, doing crossword puzzles or playing chess—seem less likely to develop dementia later in life.

Hmm.  Sounds maybe like... 12 minutes a day of heightened concentration exercises leading to improved memory and brain function.

Kind of like 20 minutes of exercise a day leads to better muscle tone and improved body function.

Not really that surprising or revolutionary, to be honest.  And really, really hard to tie to spirituality.

Which actually appears to be what the scientist who did the neurotheology study concludes.  Smart man, that.  He says, "One could try to conclude one way or the other that maybe it’s the biology or maybe God's really in the room, but the scan itself doesn't really show that."

In other words, "Hey guys, I've got some results, but in order to understand them we'll need a whole pile of more research money.  All of you who want to prove that there's a higher power, put your money in this bucket on the right.  All of you who want to disprove the existence of God, put your money in this bucket on the left."

Genius, this guy.  I bet he could totally beat my time at the NYT crossword puzzle.  (Around 11 minutes for Wednesday's puzzle this week.  But it was late.)

Unless he starts watching FOX news regularly, in which case he may end up like the other couple million zombies who still think Obama was born in a foreign country.

December 15, 2010

That CRAP that you get at McDonald's

This past election season, our community was thrown into a tizzy because McDonald's wants to put a new restaurant in our area... with a drive through window.  You can imagine the horror that ensued.  Personally, I think it would be kinda convenient.  But a good friend of mine, a lawyer, led the charge against this McDonald's restaurant insertion.  For legitimate reasons.  I've got no beef with him.

But that's not what I wanted to write about.  I wanted to write about a lawsuit filed against said McFood store.  Essentially, the class action lawsuit would force McDonald's to stop advertising toys in their Happy Meals.  They don't want McDonald's to stop including the toys, or stop selling Happy Meals.  And they're not asking for damages.  They just want them to stop advertising that toys come in Happy Meals.

Why?  I quote:

Children nonetheless influence the purchasing decisions of their parents.
McDonald’s exploits that influence, by bombarding children with advertisements for
Happy Meals with toys, knowing that it will result in kids nagging parents to purchase
nutritionally poor Happy Meals for their children.

Oh the horror!  Oh the humanity!

OK, my reactions:
  • Pretty much all children whine when they want something.
  • Parents need to grow a spine and say "no" once in a while.
  • It's pretty stupid to expect McDonald's to have your best interests at heart.  They sell fatty, salty, sugary comfort food and always have.
I do think McDonald's should be forced to do something about their Happy Meals, though.  They need to reduce the excessive packaging they use, and they need to include only toys that actually have a chance of being used at least once instead of being torn open, being recognized as utterly useless, stupid-looking, licensed landfill fodder, and being thrown in the trash on the way out of the store.

This is quite possibly the most ridiculous lawsuit I've seen.  It really shows American "parents" to be the helpless children they are.  I think we should make a law that says if you're not mature enough to say "no" to a kid when the kid whines about a Happy Meal, you're not mature enough to have children.

December 13, 2010

Reindeer Names

I do enjoy a lot of things about Christmas.  Mostly the old-timey songs like Rudolph and Let It Snow and White Christmas.  And the famous poem, Twas the Night Before Christmas.  I used to read that to the children when they were little.  Under protest, of course, but tradition is tradition, no matter how disagreeable.

Just now, though, I was thinking about Santa's eight named reindeer.  Rudolph, I thought, doesn't really count.  He's like the Justin Bieber of reindeer--a manufactured celebrity with a freak physical condition (nose vs hair) and limited talent, loved mostly by naive children.

No, I got to thinking about the eight backup singers and began wondering about their names.  The names apparently came originally from the aforementioned poem, written in 1807.  I have come to the conclusion, after careful study and a few glasses of red wine, that this poem--and the corresponding song about Rudolph--needs to be banned.  They are clearly a celebration of drug gang culture.

First, we've got Blitzen and Donner, who were originally named Blixem and Dunder meaning lightning and thunder.  These are violent names.  Gunfire names.  And of course, Santa's "ho ho ho":  Vixen, Cupid, and Dancer (being in the Arctic, that would be Pole Dancer of course).  Dasher and Comet are the bag men, obviously.

Still working on Prancer.  It's either the gang's pimp or Santa's gay little brother.  Either way, totally unwholesome for Real America's children.  I am certain Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck would agree with me on this one.

So the next time your child breaks into a raucous chorus of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," smack him and lock him in his room.  We should not be celebrating corrupt drunk cops that enable drug gangs.  For that's clearly what the song is about:  Poor Rudy's kept out of the gang.  So he becomes a cop, but he's a lush (thus the red nose).  One day Santa has a problem--all his goods have been seized, and he needs some help.  Here comes Rudy to save the day and make sure all the drugs get out to the streets, keeping Santa in business and finally being let into the gang.

It's sick, really.

December 6, 2010

Because we should never forget

A big thank-you to Anonymous, commenting on my previous post about affirmative action.

Today is not Memorial Day.  It is not Veterans Day or any of the other holidays set aside for remembering those who have spent part of their lives defending my country, my freedoms, and my safety.  But it's a pretty good day to do that anyway.

Faces of the Fallen

Reported at the above site are these totals to date:

Year Iraq Afghanistan
2001 0 12
2002 0 49
2003 486 48
2004 849 52
2005 846 99
2006 822 98
2007 904 117
2008 314 155
2009 149 317
2010 59 469

Draw your own conclusions about the efforts abroad.  Personally, I still say going to war in Iraq was one of the most foolish US foreign policy blunders of all time.  Had the US focused 100% of its will on bin Laden and the Taliban and not gotten seduced into the idea of rebuilding Iraq in our image, things likely would be very, very different today.

December 3, 2010

the body heals itself, usually

The human body generally heals itself.  Get a scrape, new skin grows.  Catch a virus, your immune system deals with it. Twist your ankle, it'll get better.

Society also tends to "heal" itself--this belief is the foundation of capitalism and democracy.  Bad policies in place?  The electorate will throw the bums out.  Bad economy?  Investors will buy low, and the economy will grow again.  Generally, I think we can see over time that this is, at least at a superficial level, true.

But suppose you got a huge gash on your leg, long and deep.  Without at least some first aid and maybe stitches, the wound will not heal itself.  You may even bleed to death.

Does society suffer the same kinds of wounds?  Are there gashes so deep and big that they can't possibly be healed by society's natural ability to adjust?

Yes, there are.

In 1998, California voters made Affirmative Action illegal for the University of California.  Since then, UC Berkeley has gotten far less diverse.  The university's freshman class is only 3.4% black and about 12% Hispanic.  There are nearly ten whites for every African-American.  There are 13 Asians for every African-American.

In a state (California) where there is no racial majority (every ethnicity is less than 50% of the population), this is a tragedy.  While I hope that one day we will achieve a "colorblind society," which was the chief selling point of Prop 209, today we have a huge wound in our society that needs emergency help.  This is one rift that is not going to heal itself.  Eliminating Affirmative Action in the hope that it will create a colorblind society is much like eliminating medical care in the hope that it will create a disease-free world.  It is backwards and destructive.

If UC Berkeley had been this racially lopsided when I went there in the 80s, I would have gotten a much less valuable education.  This is a real shame.